Anorexia stole five years of my teenage-hood. These were years I should have been dating, going to parties, applying for university and setting future goals. My school environment was competitive; the pressure to outshine was relentless. So too, was the pressure to stand out, be popular - and to be thin.
I already suffered feelings of worthlessness that stemmed from parental and peer pressure. It didn't matter that my grades were excellent, or that I excelled at athletics and debating. Regardless of my achievements, I felt I wasn't good enough. I internalized my anxiety and my self esteem eroded.
During lunch my friends and I compared the contents of our lunch boxes. The latest fad diets became a hot topic. Some girls would munch lettuce leaves, bragging about how much weight they'd lost. I became obsessed with the idea of being thin. But as I spiralled into a pattern of dangerous dieting my thoughts became destructive: "You're fat. You're a failure." Anorexia consumed me.
I had to leave school because I was too ill to continue. My university aspirations evaporated. My life became a lonely, miserable existence; a black hole of anguish and uncertainty. All my friends' lives forged ahead without me and my relationship with my family deteriorated. I started to hate the anorexia for everything it had taken from me and felt compelled to claw my life back. This was my turning point. For the next three years, I fought anorexia and won.
Through recovery, I learned that I have an inner strength that can never be taken away; that if I open my heart, believe in myself and always do my best, anything is possible.
In my book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues, there is a chapter full of recovery tips from people who have not only recovered from their eating disorder, but gone on to create happy and fulfilling lives. Alyce said "I couldn't have recovered without the support and understanding of my parents. Finding someone you can trust and who you feel comfortable talking to is so important." For Clare, who spent her sixteenth birthday in a psychiatric hospital on bed rest, it was her unrelenting commitment to recovery that helped her through the tough times. "When I left hospital after my last admission, I promised myself I'd never go back - and I kept that promise," she said. "Now, when I have a setback, I see it as one small hurdle I have to overcome instead of giving up and reverting to the eating-disordered behaviour."
Jenny, who had been admitted to hospital five times in a year for anorexia and depression, says her turning point was the realization after she tried to take her own life that she has the power to create her own amazing experiences. "Identify what you are passionate about and let this be the driving force for your recovery. Each hard time remind yourself of this and keep repeating your reasons for recovery."
My own personal journey through recovery taught me that I have an important role to play in life, and that only I have the power to open my heart to life's journey and embrace my future, no matter what life throws my way. Now my work is about helping other people recover through writing, speaking and mentoring, and empowering them to create a future full of promise.
Rachel felt driven to recover because of the love she had for her five-year-old brother, and discovered that loving herself was the first step. "Love yourself for who you are and what you are. Because if you're not cool with yourself, you won't be cool with anything else."
We are all deserving of love - and it is through loving ourselves first and foremost, that we come to realise this.
5 Recovery Tips
1. You have to want recovery for yourself, not for anyone else, and believe that you deserve it
2. Trust yourself and the people who love you
3. Focus on your reasons for wanting to recover and develop affirmations associated with these
4. If you lapse, take the control back by giving yourself permission to start over and reminding yourself of your reasons for wanting to recover
5. Channel your energy and imagination into the things that you are passionate about.